Late one night in. 1932, Karl Guthe Jansky was listening in


Late one night in. 1932, Karl Guthe Jansky was listening in
ate one night in. 1932, Karl
Guthe Jansky was listening in
on a radio receiver hooked up to a
roo-foot antenna whichhehad built
on an abandoned farm at Holmdel,
N. J. A brilliant young research en­
gineer, Jansky had been assigned by
Bell Laboratories to make a study of
radio static; Suddenly he picked up
f"i . something he had never heard be-:
f .fore.:....a mysterious hissing, like a
long-drawn-out tohooshshsh,
Next night the sound was there
again and it puzzled him. Bell Labs
had asked him to identify noises
which were interfering with transat­
lantic radiotelephone conversations.
Radio astronomers are learning
secrets of the universe by luning in
on broadcasts from outer space
Jansky had already found several
sources of interference, such as man­
made static and electrical storms.
But this noise was different: it was
like a loud, constant whisper com­
ing always from the same direction.
Nearby factories did not explain it,
nor did broadcasting stations. A
methodical worker, Jansky listened
for it every night for several months,
noting in his log the time when i~
appeared. ·
, .
One quiet night, reviewing his omy our window on .t!Ie·sky is al­
records, he was astonished to fi,nd. ways wide open, -': : .
that the hiss-had been coming in
Radio.telescopeshave .alread y
with clocklike regularity four min- traced wholesy'st~ iBs ofstars that I~
utes earlier each night than the night . were .,previously .undetected. Prac- .
before. He checked a sudden hunch tical applications are .c.omirig tQQ_ ~
in. an astronomy textbook and al- Ships crossing the :ocea1.>, .a,re'lJegin­
most fell off his chair as the truth " ning to steer by art 6Ifsh~t of radio
came bursting from the page~ Be- astronomy-ethe )adip,:.sexfunt.By
the earth's revolutioninearis of a .s'pedalant~nha;,th~ de­
around the ' sun, stars rise and set . vice tunesin orr the sun and follows
each day four minutes earlier than it .like asilDfiower~h~thedt dii be
the day before! The static came not ' seen or · ,no tJ.i'n · · tiine, · th~ .same in­
from somebody's vacuum cleaner or : strument:w1l1 operate ~t night, guid­
electric.razor ... it came from the . ed bnhe'#ars. Intercontinental mis­
' ;1I~ ' wiij capable of being
Poets have ' talked about "the-, steered 'accurately and inexorably by
music of the spheres." [anskywas emissions Crdm the stars. .
the first person to hear it. The result
Radio telescopes may even reveal
was radio astronomy, one of the .how the universe beganfor whether, ~
most exciting discoveries iJf thezoth. indeed, ii-had a "beginning"). The,
century. . .
most 'powerful optical telescope in
Radio astronomy is not looking the world, that atop Palomar Moun­
at, but listening to, the skies. Heav- rain, can penetrate up to two billion
enly objects broadcast. Not only do light years into space-the distance
they hiss-e they rumble, they grind, that light, moving at 186>300 miles
they crackle. These impulses, picked per second, would travel in two bil­
up by radio telescopes with ' enor- lion years. Radio telescopes could
mous antennas and powerful ampli- theoretically pick up signals from
fiers, give scientists a fuller picture three to four times this unimagina­
of the universe than they have ever ble distance. This would permit as­
had before.
tronomers to observe.what might be
With optical telescopes we've only called "the edge of our universe,",
been looking through a crack in the where radiation emitted perhaps at
window. Such telescopes must work the time of the universe's very be­
mostly at night and they can see ginnings could be detected.
only a small percent of the stars in
The noises detected by radio tele­
the field. The rest are hidden by in- scopes are really light waves too long
terstellar dust clouds which stop the to be seen by the eye. Extremely hot
light waves. But radio waves easily objects like the sun and the stars
penetrate clouds, and come through radiate .mainly short-wave visible
day and night. With radio astron - light. Cooler objects, like the forma­
sions come from seemingly empty
space. He made the first radio map
of the heavens.
In 1940 he wrote a report on his
findings, and, once again, nobody
was impressed. But then the war ·
came, bringing radar.
In February 1942 a series of blast­
ing noises blacked out regular radar
reception in England. It was feared
that the Germans had ,succeeded in
jamming the system. But physicist
J . Stanley Hey investigated and
found the true explanation: the in­
terference was caused by radio sig­
nals from the stars. The Americans
were right!
. Other radar men ,were having the
same experience-in America, in
Australia, in Holland. The moment
the war was over, these men rushed
to enjoy a period of pure science. In
_a dozen countries they pointed their
radar bowls at the sky in an effort to
find out more about the elusive
broadcasts. All they knew was that
the radiation was there-a shapeless
noise that could not be pinpointed.
The problem was to figure out from
which star or stars it came.
To trap the ultra-long waves they
built better focusing devices by in­
creasing the size of the radar bowls .
Today's radio telescopes operate on
the same principle. As the waves
• Although the importance of Jansky'S dis­
covery was not fully recognized during his
from space roll in, the bowls con­
lifetime, his name -is ensured a permanent
centrate, them as a telescope mirror
place in radio astronomy. Just as Wall, Ohm,
focuses light, and send them through
Volta and Ampere were hon ored for their
powerful amplifiers that can raise a
pioneer work in electricity by having units of
electrical measurement named .after them, so
aint sIgna to an au I e soun .
with Jansky, The strength of radio emiss ion~
Astronomers don't actually listen to
is measured in ianskys .
the sound, however. The impulses
tions of gas that surround the stars,
emit long waves that are identical
, with the waves used in broadcasting.
The sky is literally crackling with
this radio "noise."
Astronomers were slow to recog­
nize Jansky's discovery. When he
read a paper about it in 1933 to a
meeting of radio engineers, few were
impressed. His boss told him to stick
to ordinary static, and reluctantly he did so. In 1950 he died at 44,But another young American had (
caught fire from Jansky's report, and \
for ten years he was the world's only
radio astronomer. Grote Reber fixed
radios during the day; nights he
spent building a radio telescope in
his back yard in Wheaton, Ill. It was
a 31-foot-wide pie plate with an up­
right rod in the center. He did the
work himself because he couldn't
afford the $7000 a construction com­
pany asked.
Reber confirmed all of Jansky's
findings -and carried the work fur­
ther, He was the first to give the
rough locations of a number of
radio "hot spots" in the sky: one in
Cygnus, another in Aquila, another
in Canis Major, and many others.
He was the first to note that the
familiar bright stars of-our sky do
" not broadcast, that most of the ernis­
drive a pen which writes a scribbly
line like a cardiograph and it is this
visual graph which is studied.
Gradually astronomers learned to
identify separate signals . When, for
example, the scribble rises in an
elongated loop or lurches sharply to
left or right, the astronomer knows
he has a signal from a single stellar
object. He then tries to .locate it by
the direction of his beam and his
general knowledge of the heavens.
The aim is always to find some vis­
ible object in the sky that can ac­
, count for the radio signal.
It was an observation made by
Stanley Hey that established the
course of the neVi science. In 1947
Hey distinguished a signal coming
from an apparently empty space
within the constellation Cygnus (the
Swan). It' came on his chart in nar­
row,wavering lines, as if the source
were twinkling. Bit by bit radio
astronomers around the world
hemmed in the ' noise to an ever­
smaller area.
Optical astronomers trained their
instruments on the area, but could
find no visible source for the signal.
Then in 1951 Walter Baade and
Rudolph Minkowski of the Mount
Wilson and Palomar Observatories,
armed with new radio telescope
readings, turned the giant Palomar
telescope on the spot. A curious
smudge appeared on the photo­
graphic plate.
To Baade's trained eye the tiny
smear of light could have only one
meaning: it was a picture of two
galaxies colliding in space, millions
of stars rushing upon one another
with a clash of vast clouds of gas.
These worlds-in-collision lay an esti­
mated 270 million light-years away,
so far that even the Palomar tele­
scope might have overlooked them.
Here was dramatic confirmation of
Hey's discovery.
In Australia, John Bolton tuned
in -on a strong signal which came
from the exact spot where Chinese
historians had reported seeing an ex­
ploding star back in 1054. The ex­
plosion was so bright that it had
been seen in the daytime. A few
months later Bolton had definitely
identified the source as the Crab
Nebula. He attributed the radio
signal to agitated' fragments of the
star which exploded 900 years ago.
Soon other radio signals were at-
. tributed to fragments of other ex­
ploded stars.
Up to now wehave detected sev­
eral thousandobjects in the sky that
transmit radio waves, but only about
60 of them have been matched with
visible objects. In our own solar sys­
tem we have heard faintly from most
of the planets and have recei ved
strong signals from Jupiter and from
the corona of the sun. The other sig- ~
nals come from objects that either
are too. far away to see or are by their
nature invisible to optical telescopes:
certain highly agitated gas clouds,
remnants 'of exploded stars, collid­
ing galaxies.
Scattered around the world today
are some 100 radio telescopes. All are
flowers of the seed sown 'by Karl
Jansky, and a .stranger collection of
blooms no one can imagine. Some
are tall, others slink along the
ground. At Ohio State University,
Prof. John D. Kraus operates one
. that looks like a gigantic rake with
.; each 12-foot tooth wrapped in a steel
Cambridge, England, has an ap­
paratus as big as a football'field that
looks like a series of great iron
clotheslines. The radio telescope at
Nancay, France, is a huge cross, a
mile long, on which are mounted
mobile antennas that resemble squat
searchlights. The biggest of all, de­
scribed as "the world's largest scien­
tific instrument," rises on 180-foot
towers near Manchester, England,
and consists of a 25o-foot dish that
can be spun and pointed in any di­
rection. The dish is tilted by battle­
ship gun turrets and is mounted on
locomotive wheels riding a circular
Scientists predict that still bigger
and better models are corning. As­
tronomy may even one day emerge
from its towers and take actively to
the upper regions with which it is
most familiar. One good reason for
going to the moon, it has been sug­
gested, would be to build there a vast
antenna system, hundreds of thou­
sands of miles long winding in and
out of the craters. There the radio
astronomers would at last be in a
position to listen clearly and sharply
to the vast orchestra of stars.
Johnny Can Read!
FROM: A review of children's science books by Robert McCary in the San
Francisco Chronicle: "All three of these non-fiction books are written in
clean, simple English that can be understood by. any child and by many
TOMMY H. Troland, a New London, Conn., nine-year-old with a pas­
sion for astronomy, was looking through a new textbook. "I noticed some­
thing kind of crazy about a picture of an eclipse,"he says. "The caption
said the picture showed an eclipseof the moon. But it looked more like an
annular eclipse of the sun to me."
(An annular eclipse-for you grownups-occurs when the moon passes
over the face of the sun and a thin ring of light shows around the edge of
the rnoon.)
"I thought it had to be a solar eclipse," the nine-year-old continued,
"because the earth's shadow is too big, when it's on the moon, to leave a
Tommy showed the mistake to his father, who wrote the publishers. An
astonished editor wrote back that the error, which had gone .undetected
for two years, will be corrected in the next edition.
- AP